Unfortunately for John Legend, the same sales bug that has plagued other artists also plagued Legend as his fourth studio album (excluding Wake Up!) sold only 68,000 copies upon its debut. Sure that’s respectable compared with many of his contemporaries (including Jaheim who sold only 58,000 copies of Appreciation Day), but for such a talented singer/songwriter, it seemed underwhelming. Regardless of commercial fare, Legend has been a critical darling and for good reason. Five key albums in, where does Get Lifted, Once Again, Evolver, Wake Up!, and Love In The Future rank?
Don’t get me wrong, Legend’s third studio album Evolver has its moments, but compared to his others, this one is quite ‘different’. I have no problem with expanding boundaries or even veering from one’s comfort zone, but did anyone ever really envision John Legend as a more contemporary R&B singer as opposed to be retro-soul? Not his best though also not a complete deal breaker, I still prefer my John Legend wit his foot in the door to the past. Call me “old fashioned”.
Favorites: “Green Light”; “It’s Over”; “Everybody Knows”; “Satisfaction”; “This Time”
Wake Up! (with The Roots)
Honestly, I toyed back and forth with switching the placement of Evolver and Wake Up!. I think the tipping point for was that Wake Up definitely sounds like Legend is owning his comfort zone; he’s meant to be that gritty, retro-soul singer with no questions ask. It is truly hard to make a covers album sound truly fresh and relevant, but Wake Up! was definitely worthy of its Grammy victory. I wouldn’t call it the ‘second coming’ as Legend’s solo albums of original material better showcase his artistry, but this album certainly made me brush up on my soul music, particularly less heralded cuts like “Wholy Holy” (Marvin Gaye), “I Can’t Right Left Handed” (Bill Withers), and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”.
Favorites: “Wake Up Everybody”; “Our Generation”; “Wholy Holy”; “I Can’t Write Left Handed”; “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”
Once Again is nothing short of a classy, well conceived R&B album. Honestly, there is little to criticize or scrutinize save for the fact that Once Again followed Legend’s unforgettable debut, Get Lifted. AMG gave Legend’s sophomore album higher marks than the first. While I’m not sure if I agree with that sentiment, I do believe the album is consistent and found Legend extending upon his artistry, particularly with the alt-soul of “Show Me” which is nothing short of magnificent.
Favorites: “Save Room”; “Heaven”; “Stereo”; “Show Me”; “P.D.A.”
Love In The Future
Should this album be rated higher than Once Again? Maybe or maybe not, but my general sentiment after listening to Love In The Future was this was Legend’s best album not entitled Get Lifted. Sure, Once Again and Love In The Future are extremely close in quality and both received a 4-star evaluation from me, but Love In The Future is that great ‘comeback’ album from Legend, following his less triumphant Evolver and the underrated, soulful Wake Up!. Could Legend manage to ‘break a sweat’ more than he does? Yeah, but can you deny the thoughtfulness of “All of Me” or the inquiry of stardom “Who Do We Think We Are?” raises?
Favorites: “The Beginning”; “Made To Love”; “Who Do We Think We Are?”; “All Of Me”; “Tomorrow”
Maybe I’m overrating Get Lifted a wee bit (Nah!), but it is rare I find myself listening to an album from start to finish with little reservation or urge to fast forward. Get Lifted may not possess quite the same importance as say Usher’s Confessions, Alicia Keys’s Diary of Alicia Keys, or Mary J. Blige’s masterful The Breakthrough, but from my perspective, Get Lifted was one of the ‘better’ if not one of the ‘best’ albums of the 00s. It arrived in a time where neo-soul was still viable commercially and people seemed to still be onboard for some ‘throwback’ vibes. Legend owns this set through and through, flaunting his gospel-infused pipes. The title track in particularly is still heavily on rotation on my iPod, nine years later.
Favorites: “Get Lifted”; “Used To Love U”; “She Don’t Have To Know”; “I Can Change”; “Ordinary People”